Sales of electric vehicles in China made headlines last year after the world’s largest car market China supposedly also became the world’s largest market for electric vehicles. According to news coming out of China, many of these sales were as real as a Gucci bag in Beijing’s notorious Yashow Market before it was cleaned up, and then killed.
The new year did not bring a change to the current downtrend in Japanese auto sales. Registrations across all segments were found down 4.6%, once data reported by various industry associations were consolidated. Again, the market was dragged down by continued weakness among a Japanese peculiarity, mini vehicles.
Today, rumors that Toyota Motor Corp. might be planning a tie-up with Suzuki rattled the relative tranquility of Tokyo’s auto scene. Suzuki, and Toyota through its Daihatsu subsidiary, are the leading players in Japan’s idiosyncratic “kei car,” or mini vehicle market. So why should you care whether one maker of alleged cars powered by a pint-sized 0.6 liter engine covets another?
To my unmitigated amazement, I read today a report that Tesla Motors will have a factory in China by “Mid-2016.” Amazed am I, because anywhere in the world, going from idea to full factory can take a few years more than what separates now from “mid-2016.” In China, it can go a little faster. Unless you are a foreign carmaker. Then, it can take forever. My interest piqued, I looked into the story.
Ford Motor Co. yesterday said sayonara to the Japanese auto market, and selamat tinggal to the Indonesian. It did so without great fanfare, actually, the exodus came to light only after Reuters got its hands on an email sent by Asia Pacific President Dave Schoch to all employees in the region. With that, the company had to confirm that it will exit both markets by year-end. What Ford did not say good-bye to was its usual “closed market Japan” rhetoric.
Baidu Inc., often called “China’s Google, is once more following in the footsteps of the real Google. Baidu is entering the field of self-driving cars, Bloomberg says. The company has been testing the technology for a while. Late last year, a modified BMW 3-series with the telltale rotating “coffee-grinder” RADAR units on its roof, and Baidu logic under the hood, drove an 18.6-mile route through Beijing all by itself without an accident, in itself a major feat that taxes the capabilities of the average human driver, let alone those of an adolescent robot.
When US taxpayers footed a $50 billion bill for the bailout of General Motors in 2009, few could have guessed that the biggest of the Detroit “Big Three” (GM, Chrysler, Ford) would go on to import Chinese cars to the United States. Yet just seven years after its publicly-funded and highly-politicized rescue, GM says it will do exactly that: early next year the automaker will begin shipping Chinese-made Buick Envision crossovers across the Pacific for sale at its US dealerships, with a plug-in hybrid version of Cadillac’s CT6 flagship sedan to follow. Anyone who believed that GM’s bailout would create a bulwark against a long-feared flood of Chinese cars might be puzzled to find the very same automaker championing Chinese imports. In fact, this move is just the latest in a pattern that dates back to 2009, when GM received a secretive Chinese “bailout” that appears to have turned America’s largest automaker into a Trojan horse for its Chinese partner.
According to popular wisdom, Japan’s auto business is in deep trouble, due to a deadly combination of a rapidly aging population, and young people who have lost their lust for cars, even for sex. Go to the Tokyo Auto Salon, a wild and whacky car show that opened its doors yesterday in Tokyo, and you will quickly decide that popular wisdom doesn’t know what it is talking about.